Smart Standards for the Smart Grid

IEEE Standards Association helping to create a roadmap for the grid's infrastructure

6 December 2010
stand Image: James Provost

"The U.S. power-grid infrastructure is a century old, but its technology is mainly from the 1950s," notes Dick DeBlasio, chief engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colo. Many other countries' grids also go back to the 1950s, if not earlier. Despite a recession-inspired lull in power demand, and some slowing of demand growth through adoption of green technologies, the world's power grids need to be beefed up to carry more power—and smartened up for greater system-wide efficiency. Doing that takes new technologies. It also calls for lots of standards to harmonize everything. That's where IEEE comes in.

DeBlasio, an IEEE life member, is IEEE's smart-grid liaison to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The IEEE Standards Association, along with other groups, is collaborating with NIST to create the Smart Grid Interoperability Standards Roadmap. It identifies the short- and long-term plans under way for developing the grid's architecture and the standards and infrastructure that will be needed.

The smart grid involves modernizing the generation, delivery, and use of electricity. "I consider it a system of interconnection and interoperability among distributed electric power sources such as solar, wind, other generation technologies, and storage—with two-way power flow and communications between power sources and end loads," says DeBlasio.

DeBlasio chairs IEEE's P2030 standards working group (which is developing guidelines for smart-grid interoperability) and IEEE Standards Coordinating Committee 21 (which sponsors the standard known formally as the IEEE P2030 Draft Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation With the Electric Power System and End-Use Applications and Load).

"Most of our power-side standards are systems-level," DeBlasio says, "so the guide is intended to work with NIST's smart-grid road map. It's easier to develop standards when you have a guide like this than if you have to build from scratch each time."

More than 100 IEEE standards apply to the smart grid, and about three dozen more are in development. Here are some of the standards being developed.

What is expected to make the smart grid smart is its ability to carry information and monitor itself, pinpointing outages and problems, telling controls when to run appliances most economically, and using weather information to predict the output of wind and solar installations.

"Transformers, relays, and so on have the potential to be Internet nodes you can query as to status, so communications protocols will be required," says Chuck Adams, president of the IEEE Standards Association.

Using the grid as a communications link for power management could make it viable for general narrowband and broadband communications, especially in rural areas that are connected to the grid but lack broadband links. That would involve IEEE 1901 for communications over power lines.

"The long-term goal is not just two-way power but also two-way communications and two-way IT management," says Adams, an IEEE senior member. "In particular, we need to look at integration of regenerative energy, because the power generated by sources such as wind varies and because mismanagement can bring down the system."

An IEEE standard addresses that: IEEE 1547, on interconnecting distributed power-system resources. IEEE is working with the International Electrotechnical Commission's (IEC) Technical Committee 8 to make IEEE 1547 a joint IEC/IEEE product.

Power companies need to be able to plan when they'll run their stationary power plants, which take a while to bring up to speed, and when they can count on wind power, Adams adds. Another challenge is what to do with generated energy when there's not enough demand, so IEEE is getting into standards for managing energy storage.

In the consumer electronics arena, IEEE is looking at interoperability and communications between appliances and the grid. "When you plug in a new refrigerator, the maker will know it's online, be able to detect and address problems, and update the software used to run it," Adams says. And the appliance will know to schedule power-hungry operations such as defrosting for the hours when power cost is low, he adds. Such intelligent appliances are already being introduced.

Then there's the IEEE P2030.1 for electric vehicles, which covers two-way power flow and communications between plugged-in electric cars and the grid.

The more interconnected a system is, the greater its vulnerability to mischief. "By modernizing communications, we create openings [for hackers]," DeBlasio says. "This could open up possibilities of upsetting the communications system and, therefore, the grid." The NIST smart-grid interoperability panel has a subpanel considering the grid's vulnerability, and the P2030 working group is addressing it as well.

Certainly, no single standards community or standards organization will be able to do all that's required. IEEE will probably need to partner with other organizations. For example, communications via the grid are likely to use Internet Protocol, Adams notes, and that probably will involve the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Adams adds that the European Telecommunications Standards Institute is looking at communications infrastructure, as well as such standards as GSM and its 3G and 4G extensions. IEEE is strong in that area, with networking standards such as the IEEE 802 wireless standards.

IEEE also has relationships that allow joint standards development with the International Organization for Standardization and IEC.

"And as a member of the International Telecommunication Union, IEEE can bring proposals and input to their projects," Adams says. "Most of the industry today is global, so industry wants to be able to develop and manufacture products that can be used worldwide."

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More